Tim Burton followed up his pitch-perfect debut, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, with another startlingly original and endlessly imaginative comic fantasy that might very well be the director’s purest and most uncompromised vision to date (with Edward Scissorhands perhaps being a close second). Beetlejuice stars Alec Baldwin (way before 30 Rock) and Geena Davis as Adam and Barbara Maitland, a young married couple who are killed in a car accident and now have to adjust to their afterlife as ghosts; when an intolerable yuppie family moves into their beloved country home, they recruit a trickster “bio-exorcist” named Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton, bringing his A-game and then some) to help scare them all the way back to New York. Beetlejuice is a triumph of old-school practical effects and makeup, creating an energetic funhouse of a movie with some truly unforgettable set pieces (“Day-O,” anyone?), but it’s the film’s witty script, Burton’s confident and playful direction and the completely dedicated cast that really make it a classic. As Burton now seems content to simply recycle his safe, dark-but-not-too-dark style to adaptations of old television shows (this summer’s Dark Shadows), fairy tale rehashings (Alice in Wonderland) and remakes (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), hiding behind his equally getting-lazy muse (Johnny Depp), one can only hope that his creative juices will really start churning again someday, enough to deliver a film as unique and special as this one.
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